candles 101: what you need to know about incorporating candles into your events & parties

candles 101: how to use candles in your wedding & event decor

I love candles. I love using them as part of event décor – there is just something about a flickering candle flame that adds a lovely touch to evening events. But using candles in your decorating isn’t always as easy as it looks – there are some things you need to think through before you show up at a venue with a bunch of things that could potentially cause a fire.  Especially if you want to incorporate candles in a more unique way  – votives are usually pretty easy to work with, but floating candles, pillars and tapers are not – there are a few things you should remember.

Here is a cheat sheet for adding candles into your event décor:

Know your venue’s rules: Before you purchase a single candle, make sure the venue allows them. Venues usually fall into three categories: all candles are fine, candles are fine but no open flame, and no candles or flames at all. Most of the venues I have worked with fall into that middle category, which means that you can have lit candles but the flame needs to be enclosed within glass. Votives are most common, but you can also use candles in hurricane lamps and other containers, as well as most floating candles.

candles 101: how to use candles in your wedding & event decor

It’s not uncommon to have a candle-free policy at historic properties. I can’t blame them; if the building survived decades, if not centuries, it would be a shame if the building succumbed to fire from an errant candle. These policies are almost always nonnegotiable, so if candles are integral to your design scheme, make sure you ask about candle and flame policies before you sign a contract.

Candles aren’t always as affordable as you think: Candles are often considered an affordable décor alternative. But the cost of candles can definitely add up, especially since you often need a LOT of candles to make a big impact. And since you usually need something to put the candles in – whether that’s candle holders, vases or bowls – even at wholesale prices the costs add up. Make sure you do the math. Always make sure you buy candles in bulk at a wholesaler. My favorite candle site is Quick Candles – they have a good selection and decent prices.

Candles produce heat: This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget that lit candles are tiny little fires, and when you have lots of tiny fires, you can have a bonfire’s worth of heat. Four votive candles produce about the same amount of heat as a person. So essentially, having tons of candles in a room is the equivalent of having lots of extra people in a room.  So be prepared to compensate for the heat, perhaps by pumping up the air conditioning.

But watch out for air conditioning: Because the a/c might blow out your candles! If you place candles near vents or fans, they can either blow out entirely, or the drip patterns can change (more on that below). This happened to me at an event – I had a lovely arrangement of floating candles and gerbera daisies on the cocktail tables, but two of them were near a vent and blew out. In fact, the air was so strong it not only blew out the flame, but flipped over the flowers. What a mess!

candles 101: how to use candles in your wedding & event decor

Always test the candles before the event: You want to test the candles you are using for burn time and drip patterns. When you buy bulk candles they will have a burn time, but you need to test that yourself. Just because a candle might burn for 6 hours doesn’t mean it’s going to look pretty for all 6 hours. If you have a 5 hour reception, that 6 hour candle might be looking pretty rough at hour 5.

You also need to check the drip patterns. Each candle is a little different; it might drip onto itself, into a container, or even out of a container. What you don’t want is a candle dripping onto a table, ruining a linen, or worse: dripping into someone’s food!

I recommend doing a test of your candle centerpiece with all of the elements and let it burn for the amount of time that your event will last to make sure it looks about the same at the end as it does in the beginning. This is especially important if you are working on a floating candle centerpiece – if you are submerging something or floating something with the candles, make sure those items look good after a few hours as well.

Candles on the floor are a disaster waiting to happen: I see all these lovely photos on Pinterest with candles along the floor, such as lining a wedding aisle or making a fancy pattern. Please don’t actually put lit candles on the ground where someone can kick them over. You can often achieve the same look with an electric candle. I don’t love the look of electric candles, but if you are putting them in a bag or a colored vase you will get the same effect as real candles, with a lot less risk of someone tripping and burning down the venue.

That’s all for Candles 101. Candles are beautiful and lovely – and honestly, everyone looks better in candlelight so let’s definitely keep using them as part of décor. Just make sure you do your homework to make sure your candles are as lovely as you want them to be!

Do you have any other candle questions I can answer? What about any candle mishaps? Share in the comments!

Photo Credits: { Flowers, Food & Wine | Side by Side Design | Wedding Girl }


  1. Angelica | The Bridal Detective says:

    Once again, fantastic tips and advice! I remember a venue in NYC that didn’t allow traditional candles (probably for all the reasons you just mentioned!) and only allowed flameless candles. It’s such a minor thing to ask about, but if candles are important to your overall design concept, you should talk to your venue before booking.

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